May 1, 2010

‘We are a nation of peeping toms and desperate voyeurs!’ - Shobhaa De

Shobhaa De on the new Penguin imprint named after her and the ideal celebrity memoir

What will you be doing at the imprint?
I will be hand-picking authors, titles and subjects. I hope to shake up the slightly boring, slightly sluggish publishing scene here, cut the flab. I’m not in this to ‘loan’ my brand: I’m a hands-on person, no remote control. The buck will stop with me.
What kind of books will you choose?
I am looking at a wide range of subjects — from biographies to lifestyle books: a mix of commercial and cerebral publishing. The imprint is not planning on being idiotically snobbish. Books must sell!

How will the celebrity memoirs you want to publish be different from what we see in the market now?
For some strange reason we have been a bit too coy, reverential and cautious when it comes to memoirs. Being a nation of incorrigible peeping toms and desperate voyeurs, this coyness has always surprised me. What we have seen so far is hagiographic, sweet, syrupy and icky stuff. Sanitised and boring beyond belief. It's time to bring it on!

You don’t like the quality of memoirs available today?
Naaah! Too safe. Too predictable. Too PR driven.

Which is your favourite?
Strangely enough, it is a quiet and elegant memoir, simply and beautifully written. It is by Liv Ullmann [The Norwegian actress and filmmaker].

What puts the ‘Shobhaa De’ in Shobhaa De Books?
Hey, you are goading me to brag! I’m not going to fall for it. Let’s just wait for the first few books to roll out. I don't intend to re-invent the wheel. Publishing is super sexy — it relies on imagination and guts. No shortage of both in today’s India.

What’s your take on Indian publishers?
The end all and be all of most Indian publishers is to find the next Booker winner. This is not my objective. I find this obsession pathetic — a hangover of our colonial mindset. It’s the same as every Bollywood Johnny-come-lately angling for the Oscar, as if winning that is the ultimate accolade. Frankly, there are far more benefits to winning a Filmfare award.

Whose biography would you love to publish?
Trade secrets, my dear chap. No hints.

Who do you have already lined up as subjects or writers? Who are you planning on featuring or hoping to land?
I hate fishing. Don't have the patience for the sport. Writers are crawling out of the woodwork at this stage. Even my liftman wants to write a book.

You’ve said your commercial fiction line will address contemporary concerns — what kind of issues will you be looking at?
Without being preachy... without being heavy on ‘message’ — definitely the concerns that confront India’s most neglected minority: women.

Are you looking to young writers to liven up fiction?
Today’s young Indians have it all — chutzpah, attitude, talent, confidence, irreverence. They really don’t give a damn. Good writers never give a damn.